Astronaut Henricks tells GOP Men’s Club now is time to apply to go to Mars

ROCKWALL – Former NASA astronaut and US Air Force pilot Col. Tom Henricks told an overflow crowd of 100 men, women and teens at the Rockwall Co. Men’s Club breakfast Saturday that not enough people are applying to become NASA’s next generation of astronauts and now is the time to apply to go to Mars.

Henricks, a veteran of four space-shuttle missions, who became the first person to log over 1,000 hours as a space shuttle pilot/commander, said he is envious of those who will someday go to Mars.

He explained that NASA is recruiting again and initial applications are as simple as standard civil service applications which one would complete to work at the post office.

Raised on a farm in Ohio, he added that he almost sold himself short and didn’t apply. He encourages anyone who might want to fly in space someday to apply now.

“Dream big and don’t sell yourself short.”

Henricks received a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from the USAF Academy and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Golden Gate University. He has earned numerous accolades, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, an honorary doctorate from Defiance College and a space in the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.

Although the Constellation space program was cancelled by Pres. Obama, he expects the program will someday be revived but in a different format.

“NASA is currently spending $400 million to drive innovative solutions from private companies,” he explained, such as Rockwall-based Armadillo Aerospace, which recently won several grants for their work.

“The new Constellation will be the system to take people to the Moon and other planets such as Mars.”

He said he doubted any one nation will ever be able to get to Mars on its own and a joint mission between at least two or more nations will be needed.

Henricks was accepted into NASA’s astronaut training program in 1985 and was the only astronaut assigned to the Shuttle Program Office during the return-to-flight phase following the Challenger accident. In addition to his time in space, he held many key technical and management positions at both the Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center.

He explained that astronauts do much more than just fly in space. There are a variety of specialists needed, including officers in science, medicine and many other fields.

He qualified to command the shuttle flights because of his previous experience as an Air Force Top Gun and test pilot, flying over 30 different types of aircraft with over 6,000 hours of flying time, including the F-4 Phantom and f-16 Fighting Falcon.

Asked if he was ever frightened about flying the shuttle in space, he said he definitely was ‘very apprehensive” about it – especially the first time.

After all the training is finished for a mission and launch, he said astronauts spend the three days before lift-off “hanging out,” having nightmares and thinking about whether their will is in order.

“Wait a minute, you’re gonna’ make me get on that thing?” he explained he thought, looking at the huge rocket and space ship.

But then they put their game face on and get to work preparing for lift-off. Other astronauts not flying are often those who help the astronauts who are to prepare and get into their seats properly.

Henricks explained that, once in space, dealing with no gravity is somewhat difficult.

“Sleeping is the most difficult part of flying in space. You can’t lie down because you’re seated in a chair. You have to tie yourself down and, when you’re sleeping, you have to tie your elbows down with Velcro so they won’t pop up.”

“Backaches are common,” he added. “You have to pull your legs up to your chest to help ease the pain.” He said he even grew an extra inch and a half from his flights in space.

The space shuttle was the fastest vehicle he ever flew, flying at about17,500 mph and covered five miles per second. When flying from one US coast to the other on July 4th, they played patriotic songs on board and beamed them back to Houston.

“We only played three songs by the time we reached the other coast,” he said. “It’s one heck of a ride!”

He added that flying in space has taught him how fragile our solar system really is.

Throughout his presentation he showed videos and slides of his experiences in space, including a lift-off.

His four missions included:

STS-44 Atlantis – launched the night of November 24, 1991. The primary mission objective was the deployment of a Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite with an Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) rocket booster. The mission was concluded after 110 orbits of the Earth returning to a landing on the lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on December 1, 1991.

STS-55 – the German D-2 Spacelab mission, was launched on April 26, 1993, aboard Columbia, and landed 10-days later on May 6, 1993, at Edwards AFB California. During the ambitious mission 89 experiments were performed in many disciplines such as materials processing, life sciences, robotics, technology, astronomy, and Earth mapping.

STS-70 – launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on July 13, 1995, and returned there July 22, 1995. During 142 orbits of the Earth, the crew performed a variety of experiments in addition to deploying the sixth and final NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite. STS-70, with an “all-Ohio” crew, was the first mission controlled from the new combined control center.

STS-78 – launched June 20, 1996 and landed July 7, 1996 becoming the longest Space Shuttle mission to date. The 16-day mission included studies sponsored by ten nations and five space agencies, and was the first mission to combine both a full microgravity studies agenda and a comprehensive life science investigation. The Life and Microgravity Spacelab mission served as a model for future studies on board the International Space Station.

Henricks left government service in 1997 to pursue a career in business. He now resides in Texas.

By J.J. Smith, Publisher


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